Fifth Circuit Court Rules San Antonio Does Have Unhealthy Levels of Smog

December 23, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5178,

(December 23, 2020) A federal appeals court agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency today that the San Antonio, Texas area has unhealthy levels of smog.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld EPA’s determination that San Antonio’s air quality does not meet the nation’s health-based standard for ground-level ozone pollution, commonly known as smog.

“Today’s decision means that Texans can breathe easier, because it ensures that the San Antonio area will continue taking steps to reduce pollution and restore healthy air,” said EDF Senior Counsel Peter Zalzal, who argued the case.

Smog exacerbates lung conditions like asthma and is linked to a wide array of serious heart and lung diseases. It’s especially dangerous for children, the elderly, people who work outdoors, and low-income communities or communities of color.

EPA strengthened America’s protections against smog in 2015, based on an extensive scientific record showing that earlier standards were inadequate to protect public health and welfare. EPA estimates that when communities meet the 2015 smog standard it will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children each year – including numerous deaths and thousands of hospitalizations each year in Bexar County (where San Antonio is located).

EPA faced a deadline of October 1, 2017 to identify the areas that had unhealthy pollution levels, and thus did not meet (or were in “nonattainment” with) the 2015 standard for smog. When EPA missed that deadline, EDF and a broad coalition of public health, environmental, and community groups filed a lawsuit against the agency and then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The lawsuit prompted EPA to finalize nonattainment designations nationwide, including a nonattainment designation for the San Antonio area.

After EPA found in July, 2018 that Bexar County, Texas was in nonattainment,” the state of Texas filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the designation. Texas sued even though the nonattainment designation was based on “Texas’s own undisputed, state-certified air monitoring data [which] shows that air quality in the area, in fact, does not meet the health-based standard.” (EDF’s Brief, page 5).

EDF and Sierra Club intervened in the lawsuit to defend EPA’s nonattainment designation. Today’s decision will require Texas policy makers to continue developing a plan to restore clean, healthy air to the San Antonio area, including by ensuring major sources of pollution, like the oil and gas sector, are taking common sense steps to reduce pollution.

In rejecting Texas’s claims and upholding EPA’s designation of Bexar County today, the Fifth Circuit wrote:

“The Clean Air Act allows EPA to modify a state’s initial attainment designation whenever it ‘deems necessary.’ That language grants EPA discretion to determine when it is necessary to make changes to a state’s initial designation. Here, EPA concluded that Texas’s designation of Bexar County as ‘attainment’ needed adjustment. Texas’s petition is DENIED.” (Decision, page 22)

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